Denny Hamlin edges Kurt Busch to earn Pocono pole

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Denny Hamlin became the James Bond of NASCAR on Friday, kicking Kurt Busch off the pole with a late run to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin edged Busch by .007 mph – 181.415 mph for Hamlin to Busch’s 181.408 effort around the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Even more, Hamlin beat Busch to the pole by a razor-thin margin of just .002 seconds.

It was Hamlin’s second pole of the season and third career pole at Pocono, where he has four wins, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s in 19 career starts.

“We really just made the car a lot better,” Hamlin told Fox Sports afterward. “Each session, our balance got a little bit better and we were able to get a little bit more speed out of it. That’s what you want to do, you want to play it just enough in the first few rounds and then in the final round you go all-out. It’s good to have a good Friday.

“It’s good to get a track record and have that No. 1 pit stall, that’ll pay dividends on Sunday, and I have the best pit crew on pit road. So hopefully, this lends itself to a great win on Sunday.”

Meanwhile, it was Busch’s first front-row starting spot of 2014.

“We haven’t done our job to the best of our ability, and this was a good turn for the better,” Busch said.

Brad Keselowski failed to put Team Penske on the front row yet again, but still qualified third at 181.316 mph. Kevin Harvick was fourth-fastest at 180.832 mph.

Jeff Gordon was fifth (180.513), followed by Kyle Busch (180.458), Joey Logano (179.827), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (179.565), Brian Vickers (179.548) and Carl Edwards (189.383).

Rounding out the top 12 in the third and final qualifying session were Austin Dillon in 11th (179.326) and Tony Stewart (179.126).

Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson blamed himself for driver error for losing time on the track, ultimately resulting in a 20th-place qualifying position.

Dave Blaney spun just past the midpoint of the first qualifying session, but did not hit anything.

Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway:

Row 1 Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch

Row 2 Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick

Row 3 Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch

Row 4 Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Row 5 Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards

Row 6 Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart

Row 7 Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson

Row 8 Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick

Row 9 Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray

Row 10 Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson

 

Row 11 AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola

Row 12 Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier

Row 13 Casey Mears, Matt Kenseth

Row 14 Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 15 Marcos Ambrose, Michael Annett

Row 16 Landon Cassill, David Ragan

Row 17 Travis Kvapil, Alex Bowman

Row 18 David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson

Row 19 Josh Wise, JJ Yeley

Row 20 Timmy Hill, Cole Whitt

Row 21 Ryan Truex, Ben Kennedy

Row 22 Dave Blaney

There were no DNQs.

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.